Soave – Italy’s iconic white wine

Bigoli with sardines at Trattoria al Pompiere in Verona

With today’s value-oriented consumers, everyday wines are nouveau chic.  But the New World didn’t invent inexpensive, everyday wine.  Some of the best values come from Italy and the northern region of the Veneto.  The Veneto is Italy’s largest wine region by production and exports, flying high with inexpensive but absolutely classic and well-made wines such as the white Soave, red Valpolicella and sparkling Prosecco.

The Soave appellation is located just east of the beautiful city of Verona.   The white wines are made principally from the garganega grape which produces a crisp, light- to medium-bodied wine with citrus flavors and hints of almonds.  The most distinctive wines come from the Classico zone surrounding the ancient hilltop town of Soave.  Here, the soils are volcanic in origin and give the wines a savory minerality.

Over 75% of the wines in Soave are produced by cooperatives, or cantinas, because the area is farmed predominantly by small growers.  I am a big fan of coops because today, most utilize modern technology to make clean, fruit-driven wines at a great price.

Two Soave DOC that I tasted this week were made by two of the largest coops in Soave, Cantina di Monteforte and Cantina de Soave.  Both make Soave in the typical style, using gentle pneumatic presses and cool stainless steel fermentation and ageing to produce pure, unembellished and low 12% alcohol wines for everyday enjoyment.  The Cantina di Soave Midas ($9.99) was light-bodied but balanced with lemony fruit and minerality.  The Teodorico ($7.99) from Cantina di Monteforte had aromas of ripe lemon, pineapple and hint of honey.  It was very dry with a richness of lemon and apple flavors that lingered on the palate.  The simplicity of these wines made me think of the simplicity of dishes I enjoyed in the Veneto last year, and how the food and wines paired so well together.

My favorite pasta course was – and is – a classic Venetian dish bigoli con le sarde – thick chewy pasta with sardines.  But you can see from the photo from al Pomiere that there’s not a lot of ‘stuff’ on it, but there was molto flavor.  There are different versions of pasta with sardines out there but at the core are sardines and onions.  Here’s one that I still have the torn-out recipe for  that is made with milk.  And here’s one that is made with anchovies instead of sardines – it comes from “A Taste of Veneto” published by the Veneto tourism board:

(serves 4-6)

  • a dozen salted medium-size anchovies
  • 1 onion
  • 1 glass of dry white wine (Soave would be a good choice)
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 400 grams of bigoli (or spaghetti), preferably the “mori” dark version made with mixed flours such as barley and rye
  • Salt to taste

Heat the onions in olive oil until lightly colored, then add the anchovies (boned and de-salted if you get the salted version).  Add some white wine so that the anchovies dissolve with the onions to form a creamy sauce.  Reduce the sauce and use it to season the al dente bigoli.  One can use garlic or top with parsley or finish with a little butter.

This is the type of pairing that I can’t wait to enjoy out on the patio during Spring and Summer!